The subject of bamboo and how green it really is has been a topic of conversation as of late. I received an email from Ann in Chicago asking if bamboo is really eco-friendly. I wish the answer was cut and dry but unfortunately it is not.
The use of bamboo as a building and fabric material has really taken off in recent years as we have faced the increasing threat of deforestation. Bamboo gets its eco-friendly reputation from its naturally earth friendly properties. It can grow approximately 75 feet in 45 to 60 days, making it the fastest growing plant on earth. Despite its height, bamboo is actually considered a grass, not a tree.
Farming bamboo is not harmful to the environment nor does it require pesticides, fertilizer or chemicals to grow. It is totally degradable and regenerates on its own. Bamboo consumes a lot of nitrogen, which can help with pollution. It is a crucial element in the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A grove of bamboo releases 35 percent more oxygen than an equivalent grove of trees; therefore, planting bamboo is a great way to reduce our carbon footprint and fight global warming.
Bamboo is softer than most cottons, and it drapes so smoothly and elegantly that it can be used as an alternative to silk. It is also hypoallergenic, and can be anti-microbial when manufactured mechanically.
There are two ways of processing bamboo into fabric: mechanically and chemically. Using the mechanical process, the plant is crushed and natural enzymes are added to break down the woody pulp, which is then converted to a thick liquid called “slurry.” A machine combs out this compound so it can be spun into yarn. It is truly an eco-friendly process, but it’s also labor intensive and costs more, so it is rarely used.
In chemical processing, the bamboo is “cooked” in chemicals. These chemicals turn the bamboo into a solution that is reconstructed into cellulose fiber for weaving into fabric, which is commonly known as bamboo rayon. This process is not eco-friendly, but it is much more common than mechanical processing.
So, where does this leave us? The growth and cultivation of bamboo is very much organic; however, the manufacturing process is definitely not green. The reality is that most of the products we consume, even the eco-friendly ones, have some negative environmental impact. It is important to educate yourself about the best products for you and your family if you’ve made a commitment to being more “green.”
Alice Guercio, Vice President of Product Coordination and a Kravet veteran for more than 15 years, travels the world to source and develop new product for Kravet. She is one of our top experts on textiles. If you have a question about fabric for Alice, email her at email@example.com and your question may become the subject of a future article.